Two weeks ago I was asked to lead a PhD seminar on the use of literary forgery in early Christianity for the Institute of Mediterranean and Oriental Cultures in the Department of Ancient Egyptian and Near Eastern Cultures, at the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw.  Thank God for Zoom.

In preparation I reread parts of my book Forgery and Counterforgery and came across a section that I thought might be of interest to (some) members of the blog, dealing with Christian authors who fabricate stories and forge books to attack their heretical opponents.

This will take two posts.  TRIGGER WARNING: it involves rather scandalous sex acts (and worse) by an early Christian group.  Or so our source tells us.  And he indicates he has first-hand knowledge of it.  Whoa.

Here’s part one.


As a further example of a forger who perpetrated a fraud, we might consider the work of the doughty defender of the apostolic faith, Epiphanius of Salamis (late fourth century).  Throughout his major work, the Panarion, an eighty-chapter refutation of all things heretical, Jewish and Christian, Epiphanius repeatedly demeans his opponents for using forged and apocryphal books.  Nowhere is he more explicit in his condemnations than in his attack in Book 26 on the Phibionites (known also as Gnostics and Barborites; he gives them numerous names).  Among the false and forged books that this heretical sect used Epiphanius explicitly condemns the following:  a book called Noriah, the Gospel of Perfection, the Gospel of Eve, the Lesser Questions of Mary, the Greater Questions of Mary, the Books of Seth, Apocalypses of Adam, the Birth of Mary, and the Gospel of Philip.  Many of these books are now lost, although we do have still today an Apocalypse of Adam, the Gospel of Philip, the Birth of Mary (= Protevangelium Jakobi), and the Second Treatise of the Great Seth.  Whether the extant versions are the books Epiphanius had in mind is anyone’s guess.

Epiphanius is particularly well informed about the Phibionites and their literature, he tells us, because as a young man he was nearly seduced – literally – into their sect.  According to his autobiographical, yet imaginative, account, as a young man he was approached by two attractive women who

Now here’s an account of false Christian teaching you never heard in Sunday School.  Want to keep reading.  Join the blog!  Click here for membership options